By Jim Weidner. Every offseason a few NFL teams decide they need to make a head coaching change to improve their team. This offseason, six NFL teams made a change at the head coaching position.
Below is a breakdown of the six teams who made a change at head coach, and what effect it should have on the team’s offense or defense.
Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers’ owner Jed York continues to struggle to get his franchise back on track since Jim Harbaugh departed after the 2014 season. After just one season, he fired head coach Chip Kelly and also relieved veteran general manager Trent Baalke of his duties. With this season’s head coach hiring, the 49ers will be on their third new head coach since former Jim Harbaugh left.
Instead of doing what most NFL teams do, hiring a general manager before hiring a new coach, Jed York came to terms with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to be the 49ers new head coach. Since the Falcons advanced to this season’s Super Bowl, York had to wait until the Falcons season was over before announcing Shanahan as the new coach.
Kyle Shanahan coordinated an explosive Falcons offense this past season, his second as the Falcons offensive coordinator. In his first season with the Falcons, the offense finished seventh in total yards. In his second season with the Falcons, the offense finished second in total yards and was the number one scoring offense in the league. Notably, Shanahan’s stops with Washington and Cleveland as their offensive coordinator weren’t anything to write home about. But neither team boasted the offensive talent the Atlanta Falcons did the past two seasons. So, it will be important for the 49ers to get the right pieces in place. Carlos Hyde will be the center-piece of the offense in 2017. The 49ers will need to build a passing game now and whether that includes Colin Kaepernick, at least in the short term, remains to be seen. But if Kaepernick stays, and with the right personnel, he could have a bounce back season.
The peculiar part of Jed York’s offseason decisions was the hiring of former Broncos and Buccaneers stand out safety John Lynch as their new general manager. Lynch doesn’t have any NFL front office experience and has been a broadcaster since his retirement from the game of football. Lynch will likely have to depend on the people around, especially Shanahan and the personnel department, as he gets his feet on the ground and learns the game from the business side of things.
Robert Saleh was hired as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Saleh spent time with the Texans, Seahawks, and most recently, as linebackers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. This is Saleh’s first stint as a defensive coordinator.
The 49ers are in the hands of a first time head coach, first time general manager, and first time defensive coordinator. If Shanahan can make improvements in the offense in the short term, it would go a long way to turning the team around sooner rather than later. Growing pains are expected but there is excitement surrounding the future of Kyle Shanahan given his pedigree.
Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos
Former Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak stepped down as the Broncos head coach due to health concerns. Kubiak helped lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl Championship in the 2015 season. After battling health issues this past season, Kubiak walked away from the Broncos and coaching.
It didn’t take long to for general manager John Elway to peg former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph as the team’s new head coach. Elway had interviewed Joseph for the Broncos heading coaching position before the 2015 season when Elway parted with former Broncos head coach John Fox. The job eventually went to Kubiak, but Joseph did enough to impress Elway to be remembered this time around.
Joseph comes over from the Dolphins after being their defensive coordinator this past season, his only as a defensive coordinator. Before that, Joseph spent time as the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans defensive backs coach. Joseph inherits a Broncos team built around their defense, a defense that helped lead them to a Super Bowl championship in 2015. Joseph’s biggest task is helping rebuild a poor Broncos offense. He helped this task by hiring recently fired San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy as his offensive coordinator.
McCoy is no stranger to the Mile High City as he was the Broncos offensive coordinator from 2009-2012 under John Fox. McCoy will try to install an offense similar to the Chargers with an emphasis on the run and plenty of passing. If McCoy can rebuild the Broncos offense and Joseph can continue to lead the Broncos defense, the Broncos should find themselves back in the playoff hunt in 2017.
Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers
After losing out on getting the Bills head coaching job, Lynn landed the head coaching job for the now Los Angeles Chargers. Lynn took over as the Bills offensive coordinator when Rex Ryan fired former offensive coordinator Greg Roman during the 2016 season. When Ryan was relieved of his duties, Lynn was elevated to interim head coach. Lynn is a long time running backs coach, which should help with the maturation of Chargers running back Melvin Gordon.
Lynn made a solid move by keeping Ken Whisenhunt as the Chargers offensive coordinator. Whisenhunt served as the Chargers offensive coordinator under former head coach Mike McCoy. In Wisenhunt’s two stints as the Chargers offensive coordinator, he has helped improve the Chargers running game and gotten the most out of aging quarterback Phillip Rivers.
On defense, Lynn hired former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley as his defensive coordinator. Before landing the Jaguars head coaching job, Bradley was the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator and did an excellent job at that position overseeing one of the league’s top defenses in 2011 and 2012.
Lynn might have the hardest job out of all the new head coaches. The Chargers will play in a new city whose fans may not embrace the Chargers move from San Diego to Los Angeles, and in a soccer stadium that only sits 30,000 fans (Stub Hub Field).
Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
Many believed Bills general manager Doug Whaley would remove the interim tag from Anthony Lynn and make him the Bills full time head coach. But Whaley, who is making his third head coaching hire as the Bills general manager, finds himself on the hot seat and instead hired former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. McDermott did a solid job as the Panthers defensive coordinator from 2011 until last season.
Many have compared McDermott to former Bills coach Rex Ryan, minus the brashness. McDermott made a name for himself creating attacking defenses, recently with the Panthers and before that with the Philadelphia Eagles. McDermott is a disciple of legendary Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.
It is odd then the Bills hired former Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier as the Bills new defensive coordinator. Frazier is a Tony Dungy disciple, using the “Tampa 2” style defense, a defensive of style that is incongruent to what McDermott ran in Carolina.
McDermott also made former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison the Bills new offensive coordinator. A disciple of Gary Kubiak, under Dennison the Bills will remain a run first team (the Bills have been a top five rush offense the past two seasons) by installing a zone blocking scheme. The Bills passing game will continue to work out of the shot gun.
The Bills are looking to improve a rush defense which was one of the top five worst in the league in 2016 and in the bottom half of points allowed.
Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams finally let head coach Jeff Fisher go after he failed to lead the team to a winning record in five consecutive seasons. The Rams have turned the reins over to 31 year old Sean McVay. McVay comes to the Rams after spending the past three seasons as the Washington Redskins offensive coordinator. It should be noted, McVay didn’t call the plays as the Redskins offensive coordinator as that duty went to Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. The Rams hope that McVay’s youthful energy and tutelage under Gruden will bring life to a listless offense which finished last or second to last in every single statistical category except one in 2016.
McVay’s best move so far has been the hiring of Wade Phillips, a long time NFL defensive coordinator, as the Rams new defensive coordinator. Under Phillips, the Denver Broncos defense was the top defense of 2015 and remained among the best in 2016 despite a struggling offense.
Ultimately, McVay will be judged by what he does with 2016’s number one overall draft pick, quarterback Jared Goff. The Rams hired Matt LaFleur as their new offensive coordinator. LaFleur has worked with Kyle Shanahan eight of the last nine seasons. This means the Rams will look to make Todd Gurley the center-piece of their offense while developing Jared Goff. Notably, LaFleur was quarterbacks coach for the Washington Redskins for two seasons and worked with both Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins.
General manager Les Snead kept his job after Fisher was fired. But, it’s likely Snead has lost some of his pull and will need McVay to succeed to stay on as General Manager.
Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars
After relieving Gus Bradley of his head coaching responsibilities during the 2016 season, the Jaguars removed the interim head coaching tag from Doug Marrone and gave him the permanent head coaching position. The Jaguars apparently believe Gus Bradley was the problem as the team, especially the offense, took a step back from a semi-successful 5-11 record in 2015 to a post a disappointing 3-13 record in 2016. Marrone was the offensive line coach and assistant to Gus Bradley for the two previous seasons.
The hiring of Marrone as the Jaguars head coach is a head scratcher. Not only was Marrone a flop as the Buffalo Bills head coach from 2013 to 2014 seasons, posting a 15-17 record and never reaching the playoffs, he was also part of a Bradley staff that never succeeded in Jacksonville.
Even more confusing, is the Jaguars hired former New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin as their Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Coughlin has total control over the football operations, making many question what general manager David Caldwell’s responsibilities are, now that Coughlin is on board. It has been rumored that Coughlin has control of Marrone’s staff. Coughlin retained Nathaniel Hackett and Todd Wash as their offensive and defensive coordinators, both having served under Bradley at those positions.
There should be no significant changes in the offensive or defensive philosophy of the Jaguars heading into 2017. With Marrone as head coach, the Jaguars will set out to improve their offense by more effective passing and running. The emphasis should remain in the passing game given the history of both Marrone and Coughlin.
Jim Saranteas contributed to portions of this article.